Our universe is both massive and fascinating. While we have a pretty elevated view of ourselves as humans, whenever we peer into the cosmos we really see how small we are in compared to the rest of whats out there. The lowest astronomical figures say there are 100 billion galaxies (that’s 100,000,000,000) in the universe, and our Milky Way is only one. Take the Earth – and multiply it times 17 billion. That’s how many Earth-sized worlds exist only in the Milky Way Galaxy. Multiply that times 100 billion galaxies and you have a massive universe, not even counting the stars and non-Earth-sized planets. Here, we focus on some of the most amazing aspects of our universe: galaxies. The masses of stars, planets, debris, dark matter, and more follow some general patterns but sometimes even they break tradition and amaze us, earning them a spot on this list of the strangest and most bizarre galaxies in the universe.
Most of the strange galaxies on this list are known to astronomers by two classifications: the Messier catalog or the New General Catalog. Messier’s catalog was compiled in 1771 by French astronomer Charles Messier as a way to organize the host of cosmic discoveries happening at the time. A particular fan of comets, Messier made the list with his assistant Pierre Méchain to filter out non-comet items. The New General Catalog (NGC) of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars is a collection of various types of deep sky objects compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer. Numerous revisions have cleaned up the listing, now one of the most comprehensive catalogs to date with 7,840 deep space objects.
From a galaxy which resembles a cosmic sunflower unfolding before our eyes to a hellish-looking mass of gas and matter to violent galactic collisions which seem oh-so-peaceful in still images, here are the 25 Most Bizarre Galaxies in the Universe.
We start off our list of the strangest galaxies in the universe with one of the most impressive – Messier 82. Known as M82, this galaxy is five times brighter than the entire Milky Way due to the rapid birth of young stars – a rate 10 times greater than inside our own galaxy. Over time, stars will be created so quickly they will devour each other. (The red plumes coming out from the center are glowing hydrogen gas being ejected from M82’s center.)
Formally known as Messier 63, the aptly nicknamed Sunflower Galaxy looks as though it belongs in Vincent Van Gogh’s repertoire. This cosmic beauty boasts bright, winding arms made up of newly formed blue-white giant stars. Just as with this sunflower design, galaxies are also known for mimicking natural designs such as whirlpools and arms.
MACS J0717 is one of the strangest (astronomically-speaking) galaxies on this list. Technically a galaxy cluster, MACS J0717 was formed by the collision of four other galaxies. A stream of galaxies, gas, and dark matter over 13 million light years long are colliding in an area already dense with matter, creating fascinating images for us to see.
If Santa Claus has a favorite galaxy, it would be this one. Messier 74 is often talked about by astronomers around Christmas time since the spiral arms’ clusters of young blue stars and the bright, glowing balls of ionized hydrogen make it look like a Christmas wreath.
Baby Boom Galaxy
A starburst galaxy about 12.2 billion light years away from Earth, the Baby Boom Galaxy was discovered in 2008. The aptly named galaxy takes the cake as the brightest starburst galaxy in the very distant universe, thanks to its incredibly rapid star formation – a rate of one star about every 2 hours. In contrast, our Milky Way Galaxy produces a new star on average once every 36 days.